Inflated Lines on Top Teams with Playoff Scenario’s and Spots in Play
Week 16 presents plenty of NFL playoff scenarios with seven spots still up for grabs. Five teams have qualified for the playoffs, four through division titles (NE, PIT, MN, PHI). Home field advantage for the playoffs remains up for grabs in both conferences, along with three of the four first-round byes. Two teams are in position to go from worst to first in their division, as the Jaguars (10-4) can secure the AFC South this weekend after finishing in last place with 3 wins a year ago. Same too for the Panthers (10-4), who are tied with the Saints on top of the NFL South after finishing last a year ago with 6 wins. And how 'bout the LA Rams (10-4)! Just four wins a season ago to the top of the NFC West after burying the perennial division kingpin Seahawks 42-7 last week – in Seattle! Six teams will be eliminated if they lose in Week 16: the Chargers, Lions, Seahawks, Cowboys, Dolphins and Raiders.
The Patriots (11-3) and Steelers (11-3) were expected to win their divisions and contend for the Super Bowl again this season, and led by their future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Brady and Ben, those teams gave us a playoff preview last week in a thrilling, yet controversial game-ending contest in New England's 27-24 win. The Eagles (12-2) and Vikings (11-3) were not picked to win their divisions at the start of the season by a majority of prognosticators. Injuries to both those teams starting QBs make them more vulnerable to many as the playoffs approach, and the Vikings head to frigid Lambeau Field in week 16 where single-digit temperatures will greet them along with a Packers team playing without superstar QB Aaron Rogers. The Vikings have not been a road favorite in Green Bay for nearly two decades, yet the linemaker has inflated the betting line up to 9-points favoring the Vikings based on recent and season-long results along with the Packers incompetent backup quarterback Hundley and injuries.
Poor quarterback play has been prominent throughout the season, and flat out awful for teams in Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco and Arizona. Along with incompetence at QB with replacements in Green Bay, Indianapolis, Buffalo, New York and even Tampa Bay, and you can see why so many teams struggle and how the impact and arrival of a capable QB like Jimmy Garappolo in San Francisco or Case Keenum in Minnesota can make such a difference.
From a betting perspective, the bookmakers have been getting beat up badly since week 7, as favorites have been covering at a remarkable 67% clip since then. We were having great success writing about underdogs and providing our plays in weeks 1-6 (16-8 ATS). We then went on the disabled list for a month and did not report to practice, and that's when the favorites started covering point spreads at a 70% clip for 4-5 week stretch with many bettors just blindly betting on the 'good' teams and against the 'bad' teams. It just so happened that many of those bad teams had lousy quarterback play.
Now in week 16, we see some very high lines and bettors having to pay a big price on those playoff teams or those contending – Baltimore (-13), Minnesota (-9), LA Chargers (-7), LA Rams (-6.5), Carolina (-10), Kansas City (-10.5), New England (-12) and on Monday night both Pittsburgh (-9) and Philadelphia (-9).
From our Vegas view and point spread perspective, the underdogs and many of these losing teams with little appeal will have a winning week against the spread (ATS) in week 16. You must be willing to change your opinions and approach on a weekly basis in the NFL, as along with a teams play and performance come injuries. Clearly some of those are impactful, as the Packers found out with QB Rogers and now the Eagles and QB Wentz and Steelers with WR Brown will try to push through the upcoming playoffs without star performers. The Chargers (7-7) started 0-4 and then turned around their season with a 7-2 SU and ATS run before last week's key division loss at Kansas City. And those Chiefs (8-6) started the season 5-0 SU and ATS and bettors fell in love with the Chiefs. But again, things change quickly in the NFL, and Kansas City sputtered through a 1-6 SU and ATS slide before saving their season the last two weeks with wins. The Chiefs finish the season against bottom feeders Miami and Denver, who has been a major disappointment just as we projected with our best bet season win total against the Broncos. Yet Denver's demise pales in comparison to the turkeys in Cleveland (0-14), who remain winless under their clueless coach and QB as they try to equal their season win total from last year (1) with two games remaining.
I'm confident that the long run of winning weeks for betting favorites will end in week 16, and the leading sportsbooks will have a winning week overall. As mentioned, handicappers and bettors must be able to change and adjust weekly. It goes beyond stats, situations or scheduling. Unfortunately, through years of experience, I know that the vast majority of public bettors will keep pounding away on the favorites, even with inflated lines staring them right in the face in week 16.
Look at the biggest NFL contest at the Las Vegas SuperBook, with more than 2,700 entries filled with public and favorites bettors shooting for the nearly $1 million first place prize. The top-5 consensus picks have produced a losing overall record (33-37) in 2016, and only the long stretch of favorites covering has saved the majority after the consensus was hitting less than 35% winners ATS through the first half of the season. So a majority of those contest bettors have losing seasons. I've had proven 60% ATS success in that contest over 85 games two separate years, and did not enter this year due to the structure and payout. The value just is not there with only 50 entries (less than 3%) making the money and too many coin flips determining the outcome in the short sample. And the value is not on betting favorites in week 16, so buyers and bettors beware of the barking dog protecting his turf this week.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay